Taiwan charges man for organizing voter trips to China ahead of pivotal election

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A Taiwanese man was charged with violating election and anti-infiltration laws for allegedly arranging sponsored visits to China for voters in the first indictment of its kind ahead of the island’s pivotal poll in January.

Ahead of Taiwan’s January 13 vote to elect a new president and parliament, officials have warned that China would try to influence the island’s voters.

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Beijing has stepped up pressure in recent years on self-ruled Taiwan, which it regards as part of its territory to be seized one day.

Prosecutors in southern Kaohsiung city indicted a man, identified by his family name Cheng, for organizing visits to five Chinese provinces between May and October.

Cheng belongs to a small pro-Beijing civic group, and “was commissioned and funded by an infiltration source to promote candidates and deliver unfair benefits to voters,” prosecutors from Kaohsiung’s Ciaotou district said in a statement Monday.

They added that he was aware that Chinese authorities “support the ‘pan-blue’ camp... to promote peaceful unification,” referring to the color of the main opposition Kuomintang party (KMT) which is long regarded as pro-Beijing.

Prosecutors did not say how many people had joined these trips in a statement, only that members of the tour groups only had to cover their airfares.

All other costs after their arrival in China were covered by “regional governments”, prosecutors said, adding that Cheng collected around $65 “service fee” per person.

In a separate case earlier this month, prosecutors in Ciaotou had announced they were investigating five people for organizing trips for 60 voters to China’s Hunan province in November -- also allegedly sponsored by Chinese authorities.

The main suspect in that case, identified as Chou, had asked participants to support specific candidates “in an attempt to influence voters’ voting intentions and the election results.”

Chou was also accused of “conspiring with” another person to fabricate opinion polls to influence the elections, prosecutors said.

KMT’s candidate Hou Yu-ih has described the election as a choice “between war and peace” and vowed to promote closer ties with Beijing if elected.

His opponents are the ruling Democratic Progressive Party’s frontrunner candidate Lai Ching-te -- who Beijing calls “a stubborn worker for Taiwan independence” -- and third-party candidate Ko Wen-je.

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